Millennials: The Entrepreneurial Generation

Millennials, born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, now account for just about 50% of the workforce in the U.S. By 2025, that will rise to around 65%. It is a generation of would-be entrepreneurs that are seeking the opportunity to put their own unique — and somewhat audacious — stamp on the world of business and enterprise.

Gabrielle Bosché, president and millennial strategist at global business consultancy The Millennial Solution, and Justin Dent, executive director at financial literacy nonprofit GenFKD — both millennials themselves — discuss what capitalism means to them and how best to enable this generation of natural entrepreneurs.

Q: How do you relate to the concept of capitalism, and what do you think it means from the perspective of the millennial generation?

Dent:  That term is used a lot in this country — and some people see capitalism as a terrible thing. But to me, it is simply the idea that we are going to create products and create enterprises that help each other, because as human beings, we empathize. We see a problem that is affecting a set of people, and we go out and solve it. By that definition, capitalism can simply mean that there is a place for everyone — where enterprise can thrive and everyone can benefit from it.

Bosché: I was raised to believe capitalism was not a dirty word — in our household it just meant the free market [economy]. But as someone who has been very involved politically, running campaigns and working in state legislature, what frustrates me is that the concept is lost now in the vernacular and in talking points.

We see that 67% of the millennial generation wants to start their own business, but the most effective way to talk about the power of the free market to that audience now comes in a conversation about entrepreneurship. It comes in a conversation about opportunity. It doesn’t come in a conversation about capitalism.

Millennials are naturally inclined to be entrepreneurs. Even if we have our main job, we all have side hustles — whether it is selling something on Etsy or doing extra stuff on the side — either for fun, or because we can’t afford our expensive rent. This is a very scrappy generation.

There is an inherent curiosity in this generation, and a drive to constantly improve — to be their best as a generation. And we are an optimistic generation. Pew researchers have found time and time again that this generation truly does believe that the best days for us and for our country are ahead, and we want to be a part of making a global difference. We want to have our fingerprints on it, and we want to do it together.

Q: What are some of the key challenges that young entrepreneurs are grappling with?

Dent: The key challenges they face are debt, access to capital, and barriers to entry. Millennials are talking about startups and starting businesses, but they aren’t doing it at the same rate as previous generations. Much of this hesitation is down to a fundamental lack of financial literacy — or lack of resources. A lot of them say, “I would love to start small business, but I have $30,000 of student debt” — and that might be as much as $130,000. Then the question becomes, “How do I take this risk if I am already starting out in the negative?”

Understanding their options when it comes to accessing capital can also be problematic. We, of course, see VC and venture-backed success stories, but that is clearly not universally available. What happens when there aren’t small banks and there is no community-lending factor to help launch their small businesses? At GenFKD, we coach young people through what their financial situation really is, what it means, and how to move forward. We put them in a better position to understand what their options are as entrepreneurs and in the world of business.

In addition, young people need to see role models. We bring entrepreneurs to schools around the country. They see people who look like them and talk like them and came from the same backgrounds that they did. This really helps them to know that their goals are attainable.

Bosché: We are entering into a world market where things have been fairly dominated by baby boomers, and one of the big challenges is that millennials love to disrupt. We want to change things, turn things around, turn them upside down, shake them up a little bit — and make an app for it.

That attitude is seen by many, particularly in the baby boomer category, as disrespectful. But when millennials are seeking to disrupt, it is not a sign of disrespect. It is a sign that we want to be involved, that we want to be taken seriously, and we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.